Friday, October 31, 2008

Last Day Of Delegation

Today is the last day of our delegation's travels.  Several of us met yesterday at Jeff Halper's home to discuss furthering the partnership between AJJP and ICAHD.  We talked about joint education efforts, coordinated campaigns and joint delegation planning.  Our delegation has been a great success in terms of connecting with our friends in the West Bank, Gaza and inside the Green Line.  On this trip, more of our members learned about the complicated legal, social and economic discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel.  After our visit to the large Arab city of Umm Al Fahm, we read a story about the Israeli Supreme Court's decision to allow a march of ultra rightists through the city.  THis is a provocative and hostile act intended only to provoke Palestinian citizens.  

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

on the Wall

Our campaign now resides on a bit of the Apartheid Wall between East Jerusalem and Ramallah. Two school-age Palestinian boys were sitting on the curb as I painted it. When I was done, they approached me and one asked, in halting English, whether this was Internet. I said yes, and he asked me to write it down. I did, then asked them if they knew what apartheid was, did they know about South Africa? That black and white people had been kept apart there, it was like in Palestine. I'm not sure that they had the English skills to entirely understand, but they both shook my hand. And I guess later they'll check out the site.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dr. Hasan Matani

Jeff and I have had the great pleasure, for the fourth year, of staying with Dr. Hasan Matani at his home in Qalansuwa.  Dr. Matani is a board member of Physicians for Human Rights Israel and has regularly participated in PHR's mobile clinics in Palestine for the last 19 years.  Dr. Matani is a family physician and active in the Hadash Party, the party in Israel of Arabs and Jews, trying to give voice to Palestinian citizens of Israel.  Dr Matani is a leader in his village and brings his warmth and humility to all of his interactions. He is a man of many talents, fluent in Arabic, Hebrew, English, Czech (where he studied medicine) and conversational in Russian and Spanish.  His home is a gathering place for local politics and he is close to the leaders of his party on a national level.  His 18 year old daugher, Asil, is on the national Youth Committee of the Israeli Communist Party.  Last night, Dr. Matani gathered 10 high school students to engage with us in a discussion of local politics, organizing for social change and a quick game of "truth or dare."  As is typical of his daily life, as we were having an another amazing dinner at his home last night, he received a call from a father in Gaza whose fourth son has been diagnosed with brain cancer and he was seeking Dr. Matani's help to gain entry into Israel for treatment.  Dr. Matani made a flurry of calls to the staff of PHR Israel and has continued his efforts during the day today on the child's behalf.  

Monday, October 27, 2008

I’m sitting at the Ramallah Cultural Palace at the opening of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program’s international conference, Walls vs. Bridges. This is a modern facility with a large auditorium, in which are seated over a hundred internationals, all mental health professionals, physicians, and academics. We’re looking at a projection of the conference platform in Gaza City, with Dr Eyad El-Sarraj at the podium. Some technical problems with the audio hookup are being worked out. I write during these interruptions. So far we have seen several presentations, including video messages from Luisa Morgantini, the Italian vice-president of the European Parliament, and just now from Roselyn Carter (wife of Jimmy C.).

The absurdity of this situation is painful. It would be hard to imagine a group of individuals less threatening to the state of Israel. I was asked by a reporter for Israeli radio yesterday, by phone, if we were a security threat. I replied that, on the contrary, we were the kind of people you would want to have nearby in a crisis. Of course, the people of Gaza have suffered far worse deprivations than the absence of a group of international conference attendees, but it is heartbreaking, in its way, that our colleagues in Gaza have been planning this meeting for a year and looking forward to some direct contact with their counterparts from the outside world, and now they are deprived even of that. We had been planning on getting into Gaza and spending the better part of the week there, seeing the operation of their health facilities under conditions of siege, interviewing clinicians and patients, perhaps seeing some patients with our colleagues, and now that’s all gone. We’re making the best of it, and for sure it is a great opportunity still to meet our counterparts from around the world. Yesterday we – the international participants – held a press conference at an East Jerusalem hotel, which went well albeit the participation of the press was scant. As luck would have it, we were in direct competition with the very first soccer match of the Palestinian team on Palestinian soil, held at a newly-built stadium outside Ramallah. The president of FIFA was here and there was a press frenzy around it. Following our press conference we boarded buses and traveled to the Erez checkpoint into Gaza. I was surprised; when our group had entered Gaza in 2005, this facility was a small low building, you walked in the door, presented your credentials at a desk, sat in a small waiting room. Now it has been replaced with a monstrous stone-and-glass structure resembling the new terminal at Ben Gurion Airport, surrounded by a security fence which prevents any approach but through a locked gate. About 50 or 60 of us internationals, joined by a number of Israeli activists, young and old, and some Palestinian citizens of Israel, marched and chanted, then approached the gate and banged on it with everything we had. We kept it up with a lot of energy. The handful of uniformed, armed police and security people on the other side of the barrier looked at us impassively. No one would come and talk with us. After a while – presumably they tired of listening to our racket – some blue-uniformed police emerged from behind the fence and gently pushed us away from the gate. It also became clear that the handful of Palestinians who were sitting patiently on a bench outside the gate would not be allowed through until we moved away. So we marched some more, then gathered for some impromptu remarks from our ranks. The press was, in fact, there – perhaps a dozen or so photographers and videographers, though I don’t know for whom they were working.

We have had a very good trip so far, but it’s a trip through a landscape of despair. We are all impressed by the number of Palestinians who tell us they are tired, they are hopeless, they want to leave. This outlook seems, to our anecdotal experience, to be increasing. Prior to arriving in Ramallah for the conference, I and others from the health/mental health track of our delegation – especially Jim Deutsch and Mark Etkin, both Canadian psychiatrists – were at the Farah Center in Nablus, which is the Palestinian Medical Relief Committee’s facility for outpatient rehabilitation, mostly for children. We saw a number of patients and families with our Palestinian colleagues; Mark saw several adults disabled by IDF gunshot wounds, Jim worked with families whose children had a variety of disabilities and behavioral problems, and I saw kids with some general pediatric issues and psychosocial and developmental problems as well. This felt very natural to me – much like seeing patients at home. Fortunately, we had a good amount of time with each patient. The first child I saw had life-threatening malnutrition superimposed on developmental delay and brain atrophy. Although the Farah Center is not set up for this kind of medical care, and they have no nutritionists available to them, we developed a refeeding plan based on WHO protocols and the therapists will supervise. We saw several children with developmental disabilities and seizure disorder.

This is 8-year-old Khefaya, who lives with her parents and 3 siblings in NablusOld City. She has a seizure disorder and does poorly in school. Her mother brought her to see us because of her aggressive behavior. She often hits her siblings upon awakening, and “quarrels with everyone, everywhere.” Sometimes she refuses to take her seizure medicines. We spent at least a half hour eliciting her medical and behavioral history, and thought we had heard all the relevant background when Jim asked the therapist who was translating for us to ask her what were her fears: what was she afraid of? She answered, the Israeli (“Yehuda”) soldiers, who have broken into her bedroom at night and sent her screaming into her parents’ room. One one occasion they took her father outside, and she was terrified that they would arrest him, and she would never see him again. She reported a recurring dream: the soldiers are upstairs in their house, and the family runs outside and stands in the rain. We asked her to draw a picture of this dream:

She explained to us that she had drawn the Israeli soldiers at the top, as cats. Why cats? She didn’t say, but we know that Nablus is full of cats, many feral, and that at night they fight and scream. She drew them with no arms, and explained that that was so that they could not carry guns. Below she drew her family – though they appeared to be smiling, she explained that they were afraid, that this was something more like a grimace. Her mother told us that the last invasion of their home was about nine months ago, and that Khefaya is still afraid to go outside at night. Their home has been invaded 20 times in the past four years. Asked why, she replied that “they don’t want anything from us, they are always searching for someone else". Clinicially, this reminds us of a couple of important points. Traumatized patients do not always offer accounts of their trauma until asked - as Dr Ruchama Marton, the psychiatrist co-founder of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel pointed out to me some time ago, such painful experiences may not be held in the forefront of their consciousness, since it is too threatening; and secondly, the conditions of occupation are often inextricably linked to the health, mental health, and public health of the Palestinaian population. Sometimes this is obvious, sometimes not.

Yahoo Canada

The right place at the right time.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Erez Checkpoint Demonstration 10.26.08

Demonstration At Erez Checkpoint

At 2:00 pm today, two busloads of demonstrators, the participants who were denied access to the Gaza Community Health Center Conference in Gaza, arrived at the Erez Checkpoint for a demonstration to protest the Israeli Army's refusal to permit entry to Gaza.  The buses brought participants from many countries, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Israel, Great Britain, and the United States.  Almost our entire delegation of 15 attended the demonstration.  After marching around the Erez parking lot and speaking with press from around the world, we marched to the Erez terminal gate and changed "Let Gaza Live" and "Build Bridges Not Walls" and "Let the Doctors In" and "Let the Gazans Out."  After the first half hour, the security forces on duty pushed the demonstration away from the gate and the demonstration took up another area to continue chanting and speaking with the press.  We have been told that the story has been running on local Israeli news all afternoon.  Pictures to follow.  Kudos to Alan Meyers from AJJP,  the staff of PHR Israel and the Conference.

AJJP in Jerusalem Post: Gaza Demonstration

Alan Meyers was successul in getting coverage in today's Jerusalem Post.  The link is

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Today, Jeff Klein and I arrived in Qalansawa, a Palestinian village in the Little Triangle just north of Tel Aviv.   Qalansawa is one of the Palestinian villages that remained west of the Green Line after 1948.  Its citizens are part of the 20% Arab minority population of Israel.  The story of Qalansawa is a study of the expropriation of Palestinian property that resulted from the Israeli military victory.  While the people of Qalansawa were not driven from their village in 1948, primarily because of the presence of the strong Iraqi military forces, their village lands were greatly diminished by a combination of tactics.  As is the case with many Palestinian villages, the people live in the village and their land surrounds the village.  When the Israeli military pushed closer, the people were afraid to farm the land and pulled back to their village;  using the absurd but effective concept of "present absenteeism", the Israeli government declaredd the farmlands abandoned and immediately moved new Jewish settlers, mostly from Yemen, onto the land. Also, after the armistice was declared, the Israeli government pressured landowners to "sell" their land at very low prices or "traded" smaller plots of land close to the village for the larger tracts outside.  The Israeli government convinced the people that they would never be able to return to farm those lands because of the new settlements and the new borders of the Israeli state.  The Israeli governement also sent teams of "buyers" to refugee camps in Jordan to get deeds signed for small amounts of cash that the refugee owners desperately needed for survival.  

The Farrar Center in Nablus

For the past few days, the delegation has been visiting the Farrar Center in Nablus, a special child rehabilitation treatment center operated by our partner organization,  the Palestinian Medical Relief Committee.  Our medical delegation has been seeing and treating patients and our non-medical members have been interviewing families about their struggle to obtain treatment for their children with special needs.  The Occupation has caused severe restrictions on access to treatment for these children that is simply heartbreaking.  But, the one constant that we have all observed is the extraordinary dedication of the families to caring for their children, made infinitely more challenging by the lack of resources imposed upon Palestinian society by the Occupation.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dr. Allam Jarrar

The entire delegation, the human rights track and the medical track, met together in Nablus tonight with our dear friend Dr. Allam Jarrar of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society.  Dr. Jarrar is active in civil society activism and the Palestinian Initiative.  Dr. Jarrar provided us with a detailed lecture on the current state of both the resistance to the occupation and internal Palestinian politics.  Above all, Dr. Jarrar emphasizes that Israel maintains more control over the daily life of Palestinians than ever. He emphasizes that the combination of the military occupation of the West Bank, the continuing colonization of the West Bank--approaching 500,000 settlers in the West Bank--and a regime of racial discrimination that includes Palestinians living in Israel, paints a bleak picture for any hope of achieving a just resolution to the ongoing conflict.  Despite this, he continues to work within the framework of civil society to build support for an infrastrucure of democratic institutions outside of the Palestinian Authority and promote non-violent resistance to the Occupation.

Al Aqaba: A Village Theatened For Demolition

Today, we traveled north of Nablus to visit the small village of Al Aqaba. Al Aqaba is one of the few Palestinian villages in the West Bank in what is known as "Area C" which means that it is subject to full military and civil control by the Israeli Army.  There are only 300 people still living in the village and 35 of the 45 buildings and homes in the village have been issued notices of demolition, meaning that the Israeli military authority can demolish and almost wipe out the town at any moment.  We met with the courageous and strategically brilliant Mayor, Sami Sadeq and Rawhia Sadeq, director of the Kindergarten and Women's Sewing Cooperative.  Together, they have helped bring in significant international funding to build a working textile factory and a school building, as well as obtaining funds from the Palestinian Authority to build up the village's infrastructure.  By creating "facts on the ground" of a living and working village, they are resisting the demolition threat.  Paradoxically, the textile factory, is contracting with Israeli companies for the materials that it turns into clothes, the products are shipped back to Israel and a label saying "Made in Israel" appears on the clothing and is sold under an Israeli label. As with everything in Palestine, things are very complicated.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


The Human Rights Track spent Monday in Bethlehem.  We met first with Sami Awad of the Holy Land Trust, an organization devoted to building a popular movement of non-violent resistance in Palestine.  Sami explained that they are comitted to building a new leadership structure by organizing popular committees inside Bethlehem and focusing on defining issues that will enable resistance and that will also empower the local committees.  He acknowledged the challenge of buidling the confidence of the grassroots amidst the general sense of desperation in the general population but believes that they must build a new infrastructure to prepare for whatever form the post occupation period brings.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Days 1-2

On Sunday, Alice and I flew into Amman, Jordan. The airport was much more a third-world scene than Israel's (including the old Ben Gurion airport), and we soon learned that Alice's baggage had not arrived - this was not a problem originating in Amman, but rather at Delta's JFK operation. Alice was assured that the bag would be delivered to our lodging in East Jerusalem the next morning; as yet it hasn't appeared and we've been unable to determine where it is.

So, a bit lighter than planned, we headed for the bridge across the Jordan River and into the West Bank - known in Israel as the Allenby Bridge, and in Jordan as the King Hussein Bridge. A taxi from the airport gets you there in a half hour or so. On the Jordanian side of the river, we had our passports stamped, waited a bit, then boarded a bus to take us to the Israeli side. This took some time, as the passengers included the members of a Dutch cycle club who were biking from Rome to Tel Aviv, and they had to fit their bikes under the bus. When we got to the Israeli side, we got a taste of what West Bank Palestinians experience whenever they leave the country - since they are forbidden to enter Israel to board a flight at Ben Gurion airport, they must travel to Jordan over this bridge and fly from Amman. Thus, our bus was filled mostly with returning Palestinians and a handful of internationals. At the Israeli immigration terminal, the scene was far different than the airport - disorganized, a bit chaotic. Random pieces of our baggage were taken away for inspection and we began an obstacle course with no clues offered as to what we were expected to do. We waited an hour in a passport control line for internationals that only had ten people in it. We finally gave up and went to another window, answered the usual questions several times, and after a total of a half-dozen checks of our passports along the way, we got through and took a cheroot (minivan) to East Jerusalem, where we met up with the rest of our group.

Today, Monday, the medical group (Alice, Ellen, Jim, Mark, me - we're still awaiting Gene and Judy) traveled to Tel Aviv to meet with Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, specifically Miri Weingarten, director of their oPT projects; Hadas Ziv, executive director; and Dani Filc, president of the PHR-Israel board (and a pediatrician and professor of political science at Tel Aviv University). On Friday, the day before we left the U.S., we had been informed by the organizers of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program conference ("Siege and Mental Health", co-sponsored by the World Health Organization) that the GoI (government of Israel) authorities had denied permission for all 150 international participants to enter Gaza. No reason given. This group is largely made up of mental health and other health professionals from all over the world, who are traveling to I/P specifically for this conference, many to present there. There is a site that GCMHP set up in Ramallah for a video-link where people unable to enter Gaza will be able to participate in the conference at long range, so the conference will go on. Why this blockade? Surely a group of psychiatric social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists etc are not a security threat. Our PHR-Israel colleagues felt this was simply a case of the GoI not wanting us international academics to physically see Gaza and meet some of its inhabitants/prisoners. In the 48 hours after we learned this, there has been a flurry of email activity amongst the group of internationals expressing a desire not simply to go quietly to Ramallah, but to do something in response. What has been organized so far will include all of us presenting ourselves at the Erez Crossing into Gaza at noon on Sunday 26 October, the day before the conference is scheduled to begin, and press our case for entry. If nothing else changes in the interim, we will surely be denied, and then we will stage a protest. The GCMHP people are working in concert with Israeli peace organizations to build press interest, and tonight we spent most of our time with our PHR-Israel friends making plans, phone calls, sending emails etc to develop the strategy further. They are going to put out a press release in advance of a press conference, to be held the morning of the protest, which we, the internationals, will hold for the international and Israeli press denouncing this action by the GoI. During the rest of this week we will be contacting our various national embassies/consulates in Israel to demand that our governments support us and advocate with the GoI, and with our governmental representatives at home as well. We are all profoundly distressed at our being denied entry into Gaza, but we are energized by the opportunity to make trouble for the GoI and hopefully blacken their eye a little, if the press cooperates, which our PHR-Israel friends feel is likely. So stay tuned. Personally, I'm happy to get a chance to make some signs.

Tomorrow the medical group heads for the Deheisheh refugee camp outside of Bethlehem, where we will meet with members of the camp's Health Committee, perhaps see some patients, and visit the Maher Center, a volunteer organization that supports families of children with cancer being treated at the only hospital in the oPT that offers this care, and which has developed a relationship with the Cambridge-Bethlehem People-to-People Project.

more to come…

alan meyers

View From the Schmidt House in Jerusalem

Sunday, October 19, 2008

First Day In Jerusalem

Our delegation arrived in Jerusalem on Sunday night to stay at the Schmidt School For Girls across from the Damascus Gate. We walked over to the Jerusalem Hotel for dinner and a planning meeting. The human rights delegation leaves for Bethlehem and the Dheishah Refugee Camp and the medical delegation leaves for meetings in Tel Aviv with Physicians for Human Rights. Stay tuned for pictures.

Monday, October 13, 2008

HaHRP's 2007 Delegation

2008 HaHRP Delegation: October 18-November 1

The 2008 HaHRP delegation will be leaving the United States on October 18 for a two week trip to Israel/Palestine.  Please check back with this blog regularly during our trip to read about our experiences and to view pictures of our work.